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Workers’ International News, May 1940


Testing Time in France


From Workers’ International News, Vol.3 No.5, May 1940, pp.7-9.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The incalculable weight of the mechanised might of totalitarian war puts an added strain on modern capitalist society which reveals its every weakness. At no point in the international system of imperialism have such cracks appeared as in France.

The whole position of France as a great imperialist power is entirely incommensurate with its actual resources and capacities. Ever since the last war it has gradually undergone a process of slow subjection to British and American capitalism.

The worsened conditions associated with this led to the historic wave of working class militancy of 1936 which was so foully betrayed by the “Socialists” and Stalinists. Between January and June of that year the membership of the French Trade Union Federation soared from 1,300,000 to 5,000,000. There can be no doubt that, given a correct revolutionary lead, the French workers would have pressed on to a political struggle for power.

With the betrayal, however, the wave receded and the way was left open for the ruling-class, with the war partly as its reason and partly as its excuse, to launch a series of attacks on the conditions of the workers which are unique in their intensity and fury. In the first place, the four and a half million men who have been called to arms are being paid at the rate of a penny a day. The pittance given to wife and three children is 17/- a week. These rates are far below even the 2/- a day that is paid to British soldiers and the 36/- due to a wife and three children. The 1/- a day which the French soldier is supposed to receive when at the front is, in fact, withheld under the plea that it is only to be paid to men facing danger in actual service.

The conditions of the workers in the factories is little better than those of the soldiers. As the Economist of April 20th, says, “The sacrifices made by soldiers set the standard for the treatment so civilians far more in France than in Britain. Levies and taxation take a heavy toll of the incomes even of the poorest, and consumption is kept stringently down.” That is an understatement of the position.

Wages have been ruthlessly kept down, hours have hose increased until, in defence factories, 72 hours per week is the lot of the French worker. All French workers are under military jurisdiction and are liable to instant call up. Their wages have been fixed at the September level and may not be increased without the permission the Minister of Labour.

Taxation has increased to such an extent that, whereas the taxation payable on an income of £200 a year in Britain is £12.5.0, in France it is £26.8.0. In other words, 6% is payable in Britain against 15% in France. In the matter of overtime the incredible position has been reached where there is a 40% levy on wages received for all the hours which are worked over 40 per week.

Dilution goes ahead at an unprecedented rate. Already there are 300,000 women working in arms factories at reduced rates, and the number is rising daily. In munition factories directly controlled by the Government 30% of the workers are women. In some of the privately controlled factories the proportion is as much as 60%. The wages they are receiving are admitted in the British press to be extremely low, but this is attributed in these quarters to the anxiety of the working women of France to make sacrifices in the national cause. A decree passed on February 28th empowered the Government to “mobilise all women for war work, to compel their registration and employ them compulsorily.” This power has not been used yet, but there can be no doubt that once the war starts in earnest, compulsory mobilisation of women for work in factories will be enforced.

Side by side with this industrial repression goes the campaign against all “anti-war” and pro-working class elements in the political field. Reviewing the action taken against the Communist, Party, M. Sarraut announced on March 20th that 300 Communist Municipal Councillors had been suspended, 2,778 others deprived of their seats, 159 organs (including Humanité and Ce Soir) suppressed, 620 syndicates and. 675 party associations dissolved, and 3,400 militant communists arrested.

The pretence is maintained in this country that it is only the Stalinists who are being persecuted, and that the reason is not their championing of working-class rights but their link with Soviet Russia which, in turn, is linked with Germany through the Soviet German Pact. The wholesale arrests of Fourth Internationalists, whose allegiance is to the working class and not to Stalin, gives the lie to this. The campaign is aimed not simply at the Stalinists but at every organisation around which the French ruling class, considers the discontent and growing militancy of the workers may crystallise.

In this they have the support of the Blums and Jouhaux who stand ready to direct the explosive energy of the workers into safe, reformist channels which have been so useful in past. The construction of the Reynaud Government with its greater percentage of Socialists than its Daladier predecessor is proof of the faith which the capitalist class places in its reformist servants to keep the workers in order.

It would be foolish to imagine that Blum and Jouhaux on the one hand and the Stalinists on the other have been completely discredited by the Popular Front fiasco and by the recent twists of the second group. Each can still lay the blame on the other. The Socialists can point out that the policy of the Communist Party today means victory for Hitler, demanding as it does a negotiated peace. The Stalinists can demonstrate that the sacrifices which the Socialists are calling on the workers to make are being made in the interests of the ruling class.

Undoubtedly each section has the possibility of increasing its support in the coming period. Their betrayals have been great but they can still manage to talk their way out of them and promise great things for the future. Their words, however, can never be translated into action.

When the workers put these words to the test and discover that the demagogues who utter them cannot lead them out of the morass of capitalism, they will turn to the road of revolution.

It may well be that the French workers will be the first in all Europe to take this road of revolutionary struggle against capitalist oppression. The most urgent need of the day is to ensure that when the time comes the revolutionary party will be strong both in France and in this country to lead the workers to success.

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